Last modified: Thursday, January 26, 2012
Presidential primaries: Media tips from Indiana University faculty members
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 26, 2012
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University faculty experts offer the following observations on the 2012 primary elections and caucuses, focusing especially on the contest for Republican presidential nomination:
Citizens United ruling will have large impact; negative ads to dominate
Expect the Great Communicator's '11th Commandment' to be broken
Voters should watch early primaries, even if their contest is months away
Poverty a potential issue in next round of primary states
Citizens United ruling to have large impact; negative ads to dominate. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 case on freedom of speech and campaign finance, will undoubtedly influence the 2012 presidential race, says Marjorie Hershey, a professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. Hershey says voters can expect to see several influences of the ruling:
- "Super PACs, which were made possible by lower-court decisions following the Citizens United ruling, have already spent millions on advertising in the Republican nominations in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina," Hershey said. She says experts anticipated large corporations to be the largest contributors under the new rules, but wealthy business officials are often the sponsors of these Super PACs.
- Hershey believes voters will see an increase in negative attack ads. Federal Election Commission rules allow Super PACs to delay reporting the sources of their funding in each state's primary or caucus until after that primary is over. This rule will make it harder for citizens to find out who is spending money to influence their votes, and will encourage corporations and individuals to give money to Super PACs.
- The strong support for conservative candidates from big donors has meant an overwhelming number of television ads for Republican candidates. Hershey predicts this will remain true in the general election because the Democratic Party steered away from independent spending in 2008. But she adds that the Obama campaign "has accepted the need for such fundraising in 2012."
Expect the Great Communicator's '11th Commandment' to be broken. The Republican Party faces a long and competitive presidential nominating process, says Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor of nonprofit management and social entrepreneurship in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Lenkowsky predicts that one of the current four candidates will be the Republican nominee but it will be mid-spring before the nomination is decided.
- President Ronald Reagan famously said the 11th Commandment was "Thou shalt not speak ill of your fellow Republicans." Lenkowsky argues, however, that the Great Communicator's commandment has rarely been observed. The criticism that candidates face from one another is merely a part of the electoral process to help candidates define their differences for voters. He encourages voters to look at the criticism as a way to understand how candidates handle enormous amounts of pressure, which they will likely encounter in office.
- Lenkowsky believes that the competition seen thus far in the Republican primaries is reflective of the values of our system of government, and is similar to the nomination process of the Democratic Party four years ago. He adds that the open format of elections, allowing individuals to vote regardless of party affiliation, encourages candidates to mobilize unlikely voters.
- Much of the outcome depends on the turnout of key blocks of voters. Lenkowsky says Newt Gingrich will likely take much of the South, but those wins will be offset by the low delegate counts in Southern states. Mitt Romney, he predicts, will do well in many of the Western states, and Rick Santorum will be the candidate to watch in industrial states.
- Lenkowsky predicts a long nomination process. "I suspect this campaign will last awhile," he said. "I believe it will ebb and flow, since none of the current nominees has such a commanding presence that he will really become dominant for some time." He says it is too late for new candidates to join the race, but he believes one of the candidates will go into the convention with the majority of delegates, securing the nomination.
Voters should watch early primaries, even if their contest is months away. With a primary election season that spans almost six months, former Congressman Lee Hamilton says voters should not only vote but should pay attention to races going on in other states. Hamilton directs the Center on Congress at Indiana University.
- Our election system gives a huge and disproportionate advantage to states with earlier primaries," said Hamilton, who nevertheless encourages voters to consider how early races will impact the options that will be available when it comes their turn to vote. States like Iowa and New Hampshire hold their presidential primaries as much as five months before other states. The results of these earlier primaries can influence the perceived viability of candidates in other states.
- In addition to the benefits of increasing voter turnout, paying attention to and participating in primary elections helps combat polarized politics. "Low turnout has serious implications," Hamilton said, explaining that more participation creates a more representative picture of where Americans stand politically. Hamilton says low voter turnout weakens the influence of the many Americans who are politically moderate, because the most active individuals in both parties tend to be more partisan.
- Voters should pay attention to other states' primaries to gain valuable information about the candidates, the issues and the election process. The long duration of the election, mixed with the intense scrutiny candidates go through from their opponents and the media, help vet the field to find the strongest candidates and give voters a better understanding of the issues at hand.
- Should the bid for a party's nomination for president be decided by the later primary dates, Hamilton encourages voters to still cast a ballot on primary election day. "There are other offices besides president," he said. He adds that the media puts great emphasis on presidential races, but lower-level offices also greatly influence our lives.
Poverty a potential issue in next round of primary states. Upcoming presidential primary contests provide an opportunity to highlight poverty as a potential election issue, say Kristin Seefeldt, assistant professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and John Graham, dean of the school.
A white paper on poverty in the U.S., co-authored by Seefeldt, Graham and SPEA doctoral students, shows that poverty increased during the 2007-09 recession in Florida, which has it primary Jan. 31; Nevada, which holds caucuses Feb. 4; and Arizona and Michigan, which vote Feb. 24.
- Among the states soon holding primaries, Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan, in that order, saw the largest percentage-point increases in poverty during the recession, according to calculations using the American Community Survey.
- Arizona had the fifth-highest poverty rate in 2010, using the official measure released by the Census Bureau this fall (18.6 percent).
- Using the Supplemental Measure, which accounts for geographic differences in the cost of living, Arizona had the second-highest poverty rate in 2009 (21.6 percent of its population), Florida was third (19.5 percent) and Nevada seventh (17.2 percent).
- The earliest-voting states are atypical when it comes to poverty. Both New Hampshire and Iowa have the lowest poverty rates in the nation, depending upon the measure used.
The white paper, prepared at the request of broadcaster and SPEA alumnus Tavis Smiley, finds that a large and growing number of Americans are poor or at risk of becoming poor as a result of the recession, and many will continue to struggle during the recovery. It is available online at www.indiana.edu/~spea/pubs/white_paper_at_risk.pdf.